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Aaron Royle Unpacks His Rio Olympic Race Performance

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Australian Olympic triathlete, Aaron Royle, talks to Trizone about his preparation for his debut at the 2016 Olympics, finishing 9th in a battle against the world’s best athletes and and the challenges of peaking on the day.

Along with Ryan Baillie and Ryan Fisher, Aaron Royle went to Rio to represent Australia in the Men’s Triathlon. After finishing 6th at the 2015 Rio Test Event, ‘Bugs’ went into the Olympics with high expectations and the hopes of a nation on his shoulders. He talks to Trizone about what it takes to prepare for the Olympics, how his race panned out and how to cope when your best isn’t quite good enough on the day.

Trizone: Aaron, congratulations on your Olympic debut and achieving 9th place against the 54 best triathletes on the planet. How did you feel about the result?

AR: It was mixed emotions towards the back end of the race. I certainly didn’t have anything left in the tank when I crossed the line. I don’t know whether it’s a positive or a negative, but as athletes we always want more, we always believe that we’re capable of more. I guess that’s what keeps us coming back. So part of me believed that I was capable of better. But I knew on that day that was all I had, there was nothing else I could have given. At the very least I have to be proud of that effort.

Preparation for the big race

Trizone: We see the race on TV or the Web and obviously the media delivers the pre-Olympic drama and hype. But can you give us an insight into the planning and preparation that goes into getting to the Olympics from an athlete’s perspective?

AR: People try and tell you that it’s just another race so you shouldn’t treat it any differently. But I think you need to recognise it for what it is – it’s the Olympics and there are 55 of the best triathletes in the world all lining up and they’ve all been focused on this one day for a very long time. So, it is a bit different. The stakes are high, people are in career-best form, so in terms of preparation it’s the focus for the year, basically.

When we looked back at the test event we realised it was quite a unique course, so we were planning especially for that. We got the demands of the course from the test event and the power profiles for the bike. Because we don’t do a lot of swimming in the sea in ITU, I even wore an accelerometer in the swim in the test event to know what type of stroke rate and opening speed I needed for a sea swim.

Trizone: Can you break that down for us? What does that mean in practice?

AR: We’re not talking open ocean swimming, but in the sea there’s always a bit of chop. So that changes the stroke, that changes the way the swim is done. Essentially you aren’t able to sit in behind people and therefore, you need to be a strong swimmer in your own right. You can’t rely on getting ‘good feet’ so you need to have a good threshold. A lot of our training focused on developing the opening speed which you need at the start of the swim, but then also having a high threshold to settle in to that high intensity so you can stay at the front end of the race.

And for the bike, we knew there was a minute hill or just under a minute, that was quite steep. I don’t know if TV did it justice, but it got up to 18-20% I believe, so it was steep. Overall, we had a lot of data outlining exactly what the demands were for this race. There’s a bunch of people who contribute – my coach, Jamie Turner, obviously plays a big part in that and there’s another guy, Adam Radford who Jamie relies on to analyse data and break down the key components and aspects of the demands of the course. Then there are the sports scientists from the AIS. I like to know about this stuff, so I ask a lot of questions. But, there’s a great deal that goes into identifying the demands of the swim, bike and run components for this single race, before we even start our specific training for it.

Peaking on race day

Trizone: The reality of being an elite triathlete is that you’re always tired. What keeps you going? How do you manage your mental state?

AR: Obviously, the Olympic Games and training for that was all the motivation I needed to get out and push myself and punish my body every day, even though a lot of days it would have been much easier to stay in bed! The aim is to be in the best possible shape you can be for one day in four years and that’s the beauty and the curse of the Olympics. To get yourself in the best possible shape for one day is actually quite difficult to do.

Trizone: There are also so many external factors that you’re not in control of – you have to manage them as best you can. Plus, as 70.3 World Champion, Tim Reed, said, sometimes you just have a good day.

AR: Exactly! I think people say this a lot and it’s true – it’s about consistency over quantity. I read somewhere, and I don’t know the exact numbers or the stats, but generally those who perform to the best of their ability complete 95 out of 100 prescribed training days. They only miss 5 days because of illness, injury, fatigue, whatever. So a 95% completion rate gives you the best chance. They may not be great days, they might not be days when you broke records, but they’re days when you get the work done consistently. But I think that’s the biggest challenge – staying healthy and injury free and continually getting those days.

Trizone: To have your body at optimum performance it needs to be looked after and nurtured and if you’re not able to do that it makes things tough.

AR: It’s a balancing act, because triathletes are notorious for always wanting more and having the mindset that ‘rest is for the weak’. I’m 26 and I’ve been around this sport for a very long time, but I still find it hard, even though I know it’s a good decision, to take an easy day or to take a day off when I’m not well. I end up thinking, “Hell, I know my competitors are out training today and I’m here laying in bed…”

I’ve always said that triathlon attracts crazy people or it turns people crazy. I don’t know which one it is, but there’s definitely a crazy side to it!

Olympic debut

Trizone: Can you talk us through the race from the beginning?

AR: We arrived in Rio about a week beforehand and the lead-up was smooth. There were obviously extra things around the Olympics that we needed to do with the AOC and the media. A few days out from the race we moved from the Athlete Village to Ipanema where our race site was. I woke up on race morning feeling surprisingly calm for an Olympics. Obviously I was nervous and yes, a little bit more nervous than I would have been for a normal WTS race. I was excited but I wasn’t uncontrollably nervous. I knew it was the Olympics, but once I got down to the race venue everything was the same as for a WTS race. There was a comforting familiarity about it all. We had the same officials, the same coaches, the same transition, the same blue carpet… all that sort of stuff. And I remember lining up, before everyone gets called up individually to the start line, and thinking to myself this is just a normal WTS race. But then when my name was about to be called out, it hit me, “This is it. The Olympic Games. This is it. I’m ready for it. Let’s go!”

For the swim, normally in WTS your ITU ranking determines your spot on the pontoon, but in Rio it was picked at random. So the good swimmers were stretched out across the pontoon rather than being bunched up on one side, which meant that it was easier for them to get out well. It was a one lap swim which is not what we normally do and 500m to the first buoy, so the pack sorted itself out fairly quickly. Richard Varga got himself to the front and the usual suspects in the Brownlees, Henri Schoeman, myself, a few of the Russians and a few of the French were in a good spot come the first buoy, a third of the way into the swim. I could tell that I was in the front split- I was about 8th, sitting there quite comfortably after the opening surge. When you’ve had a good start and you get onto some good feet it’s normally quite relaxed and I remember thinking, ’Hopefully this is fast enough to get rid of some of the good runners like Mola and Murray’. I was a little concerned that they would be able to sit on the tempo that was set. Coming back in with about 400m to go is generally where a lot of the splits happen. I assume that Vargo, who was leading, picked up the pace because it got more strung out and that’s where it did hurt a little for me. But I was able to stay in control and in touch.

I got up onto the sand, looked around, saw the usual suspects and knew that I was in a good spot. Obviously, especially in ITU racing, you need to be desperate through the transition areas because generally that back end of the swim, the transition and the first part of the bike is where splits happen. A big focus of my race plan was to be prepared for that opening section of the bike and the transitions.

Fast and furious on the bike

AR: I got onto the bike. I knew that the Brownlees, and a couple of the Russians and the French were in front of me, but I didn’t know that people like Ryan Baillie and Mario Mola were not that far off at the start of the leg. You need to push that first part of the bike, so the Brownlees were absolutely hammering at the start. I knew I needed to do what I could to help because obviously that’s my strength and I wanted to give myself the best possible chance to perform to my potential.

It was hard – the hardest opening 15 minutes of bike I have ever experienced. Yes, we trained for that, but just because you’ve trained for it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Maybe in hindsight I pushed a bit too hard and never fully recovered come the run. Maybe not. Maybe had I not pushed as hard, it might have been Mario Mola and Rich Murray and a few good runners getting off the bike with us. It’s hard to say. But to put it in context, I heard that we rode about 2 minutes quicker than the test event last year. And a minute and a half of that was sliced off in the first two laps of the eight, so it shows how much faster those first two laps were compared to last year.

After the first two laps it settled down and the gap to the chase pack stayed at around a minute to 70 seconds for the next 6 laps. But you can’t relax. We rode along Copacabana Beach which was a straight section and then we turned and went up a side street through a steep hill and a few technical sections after that. I knew I needed to remain in good position in that area because that was the most challenging part and where it would string out a little bit.

I mentioned the steep hill earlier. For those people who like to know numbers, I had a 39:28 as my easiest gear. Even though we definitely never rode the hill easily, I dropped down to 39:28 a couple of times, but most of the time I stayed in 39:25. That’s quite a low gear for racing and I think we averaged 600 – 650w each time we pushed up the hill, which is quite high.

Overall, the ride was about staying in a good position to give myself the best possible chance to run well. The Brownlees were the main driving force, as they normally are, but as a group we rolled quite smoothly. It hurt though and it really hurt when I stepped off the bike. But I was thinking, “If I’m hurting then the other 12 or 13 guys in the lead group are hurting too.”

Bringing it home

Starting the run didn’t feel pleasant and I immediately went into 3rd, 4th and then 5th. Not for long, just for the first kilometre or so. And the Brownlees and the French guy, Vincent Luis, took off, they cleared out. I was running with Henri Schoeman and Marten Van Riel (Belgium) and I just couldn’t sustain the pace that they put on after a kilometre. Normally I run to their ability but I couldn’t sustain that and I thought to myself, well let’s settle into a pace that I know I can sustain a bit better and hope that they’ve gone out a bit too hard. Kudos to them, they held strong and they put a great performance together. Henri pushed up to third position and held on for Bronze so full credit to him. He had a fantastic race.

The run that I put together, well, I know I’m capable of something a bit better, but at the same time I know that was the best I had on the day. Pre-Olympics, we knew that a mid-31 (31 mins for 10km) off that type of bike leg was going to get you on the podium, so that’s what I trained for. Unfortunately, I found the bike very demanding and the heat in the middle of the day took its toll on me on the run. We were training to be able to run that sort of intensity off the bike, but I just wasn’t able to deliver on the day.

Trizone: To put it in context, you were just two seconds slower than the Gold Medallist, Alistair Brownlee, on the swim and only a second slower on the bike. It really did come down to the run.

Credit where credit is due

Trizone: You’ve got a reputation as a generous competitor, any callouts you’d like to give?

AR: The Brownlees have shown over the last four years that they’re beatable, but as athletes I have absolute respect for them in their ability and for what they’ve done for the sport. They have genuinely changed the way the sport is raced. There is no longer a chance to have a weakness in the swim, to not be strong enough on the bike or to not be able to run a sub-30 minute 10km off a hard bike. In my opinion, and I share that opinion with a lot of other past ITU athletes and current ITU athletes, they are the best that we’ve ever seen and probably will see in a long time. They’ve lifted the bar again in 2016. They’ve shown a new level of achievement. A lot of other athletes, myself included, are now going, “Right let’s keep working to get there.”

And a special mention to Henri Schoeman, the South African. I think he’s been knocking on the door for a WTS podium for a while and now he’s got third at the Olympic Games. It’s a great effort.

Trizone: How about your teammate, Ryan Baillie? To come in the top 10, he must have been pretty happy?

AR: He was happy. I guess he’s the same as me and all athletes – we all want a little bit more. His first part of the bike, he was very close to making the lead group. When that happens you wrestle with the ‘what ifs’. It’s the ‘what ifs’ that kill elite athletes. We all have them all the time. They’re probably not good things to have, but we all have them. So Ryan had some ‘what ifs’ after the race, but to come from the position he was at the start of the run to be top 10 at an Olympic Games was a fantastic effort.

And to be able to share that with Ryan was great. It’s been a 6 year journey with us, even a 7 year journey with Jamie Turner, together. Jamie had another young athlete, Tyler Mislawchuk, who was competing for Canada. Two years ago no one would have thought he would be going to the Olympics, but he came 15th and he’s only 21 years old. So we had three Wollongong Wizards in the top 15. I haven’t been able to sit down with Jamie and get his thoughts on the performances yet, but I think he’ll look back and be proud of our performances. I think as a coach he probably has the same thoughts as us – that there was maybe a little bit more there, but I think he’ll be proud of what we were able to achieve as a squad on the Men’s side.

Trizone: And what’s the plan now? What does the future hold?

AR: More WTS, but I’m looking at doing a couple of 70.3s next year when I’m fit enough and when I feel ready. Busselton and maybe Geelong? I’d like to test myself against a serious field – Reedy, Appo, Crowie, Berks, Sticksy. There are definitely a few legends there. We’ll see what happens!

Jeremy (Jez) Thewlis is a writer, adventurer, motivator and keen communicator. With a strong background in sociology and teaching, he's always been fascinated with the art and science of human performance and the pursuit of excellence. Curious, blunt and irreverent, he's continually looking for the story behind the story, the hidden gems that can both entertain and inspire.

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Interview

AFL Champ Brent Staker Makes Triathlon Debut at Mooloolaba

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With high profile career with the West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Lions, athletic key position player Brent Staker has experienced the constant physical demands of competition, the resulting injuries and all the highs and lows that cut throat professional sports can deliver. Football was his life and after years of structured training and competition, like many athletes before him, the veteran of 160 AFL games found himself retired far too early and in need of a new sporting outlet.

Retirement is often very frustrating for elite sportspeople and increasingly, elite athletes from all codes and sports are finding their way to the new sporting challenge of swim/ride/run. On Sunday (11 March) Brent is making his triathlon debut and taking the plunge, joining the more than 3,000 athletes competing at the iconic Mooloolaba Triathlon, racing over the standard distance of 1500m swim/40km ride/10km run.

“This is my first triathlon, my very first one. My plan was to try and squeeze in a few smaller ones in the lead up but unfortunately with work commitments and other things in life getting in the way and I couldn’t get it to work out. I am the assistant coach for the Brisbane Lions women’s team in the AFLW so there is a commitment there and I didn’t have enough time to have the practice run. So this event will be my very first triathlon.”

“I dedicated myself to playing football for 13 years and didn’t really explore any other sports in that time. But I always knew that when I retired I would give something like this a go. Last year I transitioned out of footy and I got to the end of the year and made the commitment to apply myself and have a crack at triathlon. I thought Mooloolaba would be a great one to start with.”

“When you are playing professional sport you get so used to a schedule week in week out that when you do retire you do miss it and sometimes get a bit lost. Although it is not 100 per cent necessary in your life, having a schedule or a fitness regime is great. I developed my own training program and have stuck to it since early December. When you are retired you can sit around and do nothing so it has kept my mind active and all the exercise helps get rid of the negative energy. Staying active it keeps your mind fresh and keeps you positive and gives you a goal. This is my goal to tick off the Mooloolaba Tri and I am working towards that.”

“I have always had a keen interest in triathlon because I like the sport. It is a great challenge. I went to the Accenture Series races many years ago and I watched Courtney Atkinson competing over in Perth and just enjoyed the whole spectacle, the hype and the build up around it. I have watched the Noosa Triathlon, having a few beers in the stands, seeing how hard the competitors work. So there has always been a genuine interest and I have always enjoyed watching it on TV and at the Olympics. It has always been in the back of my mind to have a go at it one day and do it for fun and see what I can get out of it.”

At 196cm and weighing around 100kg, Brent is not the regular build of a triathlete but during his time with the Eagles and the Lions he exhibited amazing athleticism and endurance and he is hoping his big motor and determination will get him across the finish line.

“I have always been an okay swimmer so maybe that was a bit of a fluke. I am good in the pool but putting that into the ocean is going to be the biggest challenge for me. I haven’t done that much open water swimming so my depth perception with the goggles on might throw me a little bit, and obviously adjusting to the waves will be a challenge. I can swim, I am just hoping for a pretty flat day.”

“During my football career I had a couple of knee reconstructions and my rehab involved getting a road bike and I had plenty of time spent out on the bike during what turned to be two years of rehabilitation. I learned the road etiquette, how to ride and enjoy the challenge of that. Cycling is a really good sport and I know sometimes riders get a bad rap but it is a really, really great sport. I really enjoyed it and I have a nice bike that I ride most mornings. So that leg should be okay. I am weighing a bit more than I was when I was playing and that might go against me a bit but the running should be okay.”

Brent has found the transition from being a part of team structure to an individual sport quite challenging but he is slowly coming to terms with the demands of competing for himself.

“It has been different not having a team structure around me. The main thing with a team sport is that when you are hurting you can rely on someone to talk to or push you through. But 95 per cent of my sessions have been done on my own so when I am starting to hurt I am really challenging myself to get through it. That has been a huge change. Especially with sticking to the routine and getting out of bed at 4.30am three or four mornings a week. Doing a ride, doing a swim, fitting in a run and a few strength sessions as well. A lot of kudos goes out to the individual athletes out there that have done it for a long period of time. It is amazing how they stick at it and stay strong.”

“I can already see why people get addicted to it. It keeps you sticking to a routine and it is a great way to meet other people and socialize. All those things are great but clearly there is also an addiction to the challenge and the heat of the moment when your mind is saying no and the body keeps going. That is the challenge that I am looking forward to experiencing and seeing how I push through that. Hopefully I will come out the other side feeling pretty good.

As the forward coach at the Brisbane Lions AFLW team and doing radio commentary in Brisbane and the Gold Coast during the AFL season, Brent still has an active role in football but he is hoping triathlon will become his next passion.

“I do miss the footy. I miss the physicality and the highs and lows. One of the best things you can do is run out on game day, through the banner and hearing the crowd. That is something I really miss and is something you can’t replace. It is such a unique thing that is hard to describe what it is like in those moments. I don’t think I will ever be able to describe it perfectly but it is a real buzz being out there. I do miss it. I have sort of been visualizing what the triathlon will be like, as silly as that sounds. The swim, the bike or the run and pushing through the pain but I hadn’t taken into account the crowd and how much their support might help. Hopefully they can give me a lift,” Brent said.

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Pre Wedding Nerves? Mooloolaba Triathlon Perfect Solution

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When Kristy Dobson and fiancé Jordan Miller, line up for the Mooloolaba Triathlon (11 March) there will be ‘no quarter given and no quarter asked’ and not too much loving or cherishing, as they strive to get to the finish line first.

Six days later the happy Mackay couple will be putting all their on course rivalry aside when they take their wedding vows (with a triathlon exemption) and from that day forward, it will be for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.

Kristy and Jordan met at work dinner six years ago but it is only more recently that they have shared their love of triathlon.

“I started triathlons about two and a half years years ago, when I completed a six week training program to compete in a Women’s Only Triathlon (200m swim, 8km bike, 2km run) in Mackay. I was very hesitant to sign up for the program, but needed something aside from work, as I was doing nothing else and unfit.”

“My partner, Jordan, who had done triathlons all through high school and even in recent years, convinced me to sign up for the program. I finished the Women’s Only Race, and surprised myself at how much I enjoyed it and the love has grown from there.”

Like many athletes before her, Kristy’s passion for triathlon has taken over and gradually the race distances have creeped up.

“We do a few big races each year and last year I completed my first IRONMAN 70.3 in Cairns, we also did the Olympic distance races at Yeppoon, Mackay and Noosa.”

“We have done Noosa now for the past two years and this year I wanted to try a different race and Mooloolaba worked out to be the week prior to our wedding. We figured we would be down that way for the wedding, so why not just extend our leave a little, and do Mooloolaba Triathlon while we were there.”

“The wedding is in Toowoomba the Saturday following the Mooloolaba Triathlon in my parent’s backyard, with the reception to follow there as well with a 100 of our nearest and dearest. There is no honeymoon immediately afterwards, but we are taking a week to relax before travelling home from Mooloolaba to Mackay.”

Kristy and Jordan are all fired up for a fun day out but given their normal preparation has been overtaken by wedding plans they are expecting a little bit of hurt from the hills on the ride and run.

“Our preparation is not probably not where we would want to be, Christmas took its toll, and fitting in training between wedding planning and an already busy life has been tough. We’re both keen to have a super fun race, and enjoy the celebrations afterwards.”

“But there is definitely a rivalry between us. At our last race hit out, I beat Jordan by 27 seconds, so it is game on to see who comes out victorious at Mooloolaba,” Kristy said.

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Age No Barrier for Mooloolaba Legends Gale and Ross

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Brisbane couple Gale and Ross Rogers are living proof that the sport of triathlon has something for everyone and it is never too late to get involved, no matter your age or sporting background.

This weekend 68 year old Gale and 70 year old husband Ross are making their annual pilgrimage to Mooloolaba Triathlon (11 March) to build on their “legend” status at this iconic Sunshine Coast event and once again lay it on the line over the standard distance of 1500m swim, 40km bike and 10km run.

Raising a family on the Gold Coast hinterland didn’t give them much time for “sporty stuff” but later moving back to Brisbane they began a search for a pastime they could do together in retirement. They tinkered with road cycling for a short time but it was a chance meeting with an old school colleague at Noosa that kick started the couple’s love affair with triathlon that has now lasted two decades.

“The year before we started triathlon I accidently ran into an old school colleague at Noosa and he was a little bit weight challenged,” Ross said. “I thought, well, if he can do triathlon, we can do it,”

The couple’s first foray into triathlon was in a team but they quickly graduated in the entry level events, very popular in South East Queensland, before beginning their love affair with both the Mooloolaba and Noosa triathlons. Having competed in the individual triathlon more than ten years, Gale and Ross are now members of the Mooloolaba Triathlon Legends Club and they can’t wait to get back racing on the Sunshine Coast.

“Ross started doing triathlon as a team when he was around fifty. I had one go in a team in Noosa and found it so stressful that I thought I would be better off doing it on my own. That was twenty years ago and we have been doing it ever since. We used to do a lot of the smaller Bribie Tri Series and the smaller sprint distance ones but for the last number of years we have just focused purely on Mooloolaba and Noosa and loved doing those two events.”

“Once we started racing at Mooloolaba and Noosa we haven’t stopped. We love the buzz from being at the events with a whole lot of likeminded and fit people. The races are in such beautiful locations and we have never done an Olympic distance anywhere else, these races are so well run, you can’t fault them.”

“Being legends is just an extra little icing on the cake and there are a lot of bragging rights in that. We have missed a couple, so this will be my 13th Mooloolaba but we haven’t missed too many Noosa Tris. We often are overseas cycling in Europe but we try to make sure we are back in time for six weeks preparation for Noosa,” Gale said.

Married for 47 years, Gale and Ross love the opportunity to get out together every day in the superb training environment of Brisbane’s CBD.

“We cycle together with a group every day but none of them are triathletes. We live in an apartment building with an indoor 25 metre pool so we swim there. Living in the City of Brisbane we run over to South Bank or down along the river to New Farm which is very pleasant training environment. It is not a hardship running along there in the morning.”

“Ross turned 70 just recently and I am 68, while there are a lot of older men competing, we haven’t come across many couples racing at our age. It is such a buzz doing the training and getting motivated to do something every day and then there is the satisfaction of actually completing an Olympic distance race at our age. It keeps us going.”

Their preparation for Mooloolaba is on track and Gale is looking forward to bettering her time from last year.

“As I say to anyone who cares to listen that it is an advantage being older and female, because there are fewer competitors in my age group. There are no 70 year old women competing in Mooloolaba but there are seven in my age group. Whereas the males just keep going on and on and they don’t give it away. So it is a bit tougher for Ross.”

“My times are quite constant, in fact I improved my time in Noosa last year and did the best time I have done in ages and was pleasantly surprised. Training has been going well for Mooloolaba but that course is a bit more challenging with the hill on the run. But you just put your head down and do it. The real satisfaction is crossing the finish line but I have checked out my previous Mooloolaba times so I will keep them in mind this year. But you never know on the day,” she said.

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Wilson Family Embraces the Challenge at Mooloolaba Triathlon

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Angus Wilson, wife Sandie and grown up ‘kids’ Bianca, Callum and Dodie from “Nungwai” a farming property, up Goondiwindi way, are the perfect example of a family that plays together, stays together.

This weekend the entire Wilson clan is hitting the road and looking for a change of scenery, making the 1,000km round trip to the Sunshine Coast for some swim/ride/run and family fun at the Mooloolaba Triathlon Festival (9-11 March).

If you hail from Goondiwindi it is hard not to be involved in triathlon, as the iconic border town on the Macintyre River is heavily into its multisport and the home of the iconic long course event the Hell of the West.

The Wilson’s involvement in triathlon goes back to 2004 when parents Angus and Sandie first joined with the Goodiwindi Triathlon Club and since then the sport has become an integral part of their family life.

“Sandie and I have always enjoyed sport, being fit, along with socializing in the community, so when triathlons started up in Goondiwindi this seemed a logical activity to get involved in.”

“We have always been an athletic family, participating in rugby, rowing, touch, squash, water skiing, snow-skiing and many more sports and we have been doing mini-tris (300m swim, 12km ride and 2.5 km run) in town on Sunday mornings since the club’s beginning.”

“Callum, Bianca and Dodie started participating in these mini-tris when they were home for school holidays. Since being out of school, Bianca has done a couple of Olympic distance triathlons, Callum a single one, however Mooloolaba is Dodie’s first time over this distance.”

“The family has also been involved with Goondiwindi’s Hell of the West for several years, volunteering as well as competing. This year Bianca completed the individual, while Dodie did the swim, and Sandie, Callum and myself completed the bike leg.”

“Sandie and I are usually compete in local triathlon events, including ‘Torture on the Border’ at Texas, ‘Battle on the Balonne’ in St George, and this year we are heading to the coast for the Coffs Harbour and of course to the Mooloolaba triathlon.”

“This year we are motivated to do Mooloolaba Triathlon to maintain fitness, enjoy the family challenge, and for the kids to embrace a friendly rivalry. We are driven to be a close knit family after our daughter Paris was killed in a boating accident in 2011. Triathlons have encouraged us to develop strength and perseverance, not only physically, but emotionally,” Angus said.

The family has always done pool swims, group rides and park runs together when they are all home but with the ‘kids’ all grown up and with lives of their own, group training is not always easy to co-ordinate as it once was.

The Mooloolaba Triathlon is a definite family favourite with Sandie and Angus having participated in either individual or team for the past eight years, Bianca and Callum competing six times, and Dodie three times.

“Dodie has returned to university to complete her studies, Callum works away on our farm, and Bianca is a full-time teacher coordinating sport at her school and because we have many other commitments, the training for Mooloolaba has not been as consistent as we would have liked.”

“Sandie and I are certainly not competitive, just to finish an Olympic distance triathlon is our triumph. But despite the restrictions to training, Callum and Bianca have been training hard individually, to be the ’better’ sibling. As the older brother, Callum would like to think he can beat his sister, but ‘Times’ will tell,” Angus said.

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Alf Is an Inspiration at 77 Years Young

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The Gold Coast is home to some outstanding triathletes but none more inspiring than 77-year-old rookie Alf Lakin who is all fired up to do his thing at the Gold Coast Triathlon – Luke Harrop Memorial on 25 February.

Alf lives and breathes triathlon and 2018 is a very special year for him as a competitor and a spectator with three world-class events – Gold Coast Triathlon Luke Harrop Memorial, the Commonwealth Games triathlon (April) and ITU Grand Final (September) literally on his doorstep.

Alf was a typical kid growing up in post-war Sydney, he was firmly indoctrinated into the world of Rugby League, playing for his school De La Salle Ashfield, doing a bit of inter-club running in the offseason and using his bike to get around on.

His passion for running saw him tinker in the world ‘professional’ handicap racing for many years before he joined the Master’s Athletics ranks in 1980 at age 40. Then 22 years ago, Alf made a life-changing decision to move to the Gold Coast.

“My wife Karen and I literally met on the track. When I got up here I formed the Gold Coast Masters Athletic Club and she just rang up one day. So I met her down the track and that was it. It was October 1998 and she got me hook, line and sinker.”

Alf was a hardcore runner and competed in Master’s Athletics for 35 years and then two years ago, at the age of 75, he had a sporting epiphany.

“I was down at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre and they opened up a gym so we went down there the first day and there was a lady called Julie Hall and she was talking about triathlon and running a tri-class there. I said, ‘I am going to try this’.”

“I was just sitting on a stationary bike and swimming in a pool so how could it be embarrassing? I had no swimming whatsoever and Julie said all dive into the water and I had to stop halfway up the pool. I just couldn’t do it. I hadn’t been on a bike for 60 years so that was a bit strange. But I went two to three times a week and thought ‘This is not bad’. From there I couldn’t get enough of it.”

Bitten by the triathlon bug Alf decided to train for his first triathlon, a race in Robina in September 2015 and it was a day that changed his life.

“I remember my first triathlon. My wife was screaming at me, ‘Hey you have gone past your bike’. So I had to go back and get my bike. Karen is always there and so supportive.”

Since then Alf has medalled in two Australian titles, won a few age group races and represented Australia at two triathlon world championships, Cozumel in 2016 and Rotterdam in 2017, and has qualified for the ITU Grand Final on the Gold Coast in September.

“When I got to Cozumel walking around and seeing all these triathletes was fantastic. It was a wonderful atmosphere and Rotterdam was the same. Unfortunately, I got an arthritic problem a day before the race in Holland and I was advised not to race and make it worse. It was just one of those things because I was back into training soon after I returned. We think it was the long flight and the change of weather.”

Alf is a member of the very supportive T-Rex Triathlon Club but he said he mostly trains by himself and sets his own program.

“Some days I do two exercise sessions, morning and afternoon. Other days it is one session and I always have one day a week off. I try and do my longer stuff on the weekend rather than during the week. It is just a matter of planning. I love the sport, I love getting up and getting ready to train. If it is raining it won’t stop me.”

Alf has his triathlon and Karen is an active Masters runner and both are determined to not let the grass grow under their feet.

“People say to me that it is too late but I always say to them that too late is when you are dead. You might as well make the most of it while you are still going. I might be slow but I get there and at 77 what else would I want to do?”

“I love it when the young ones come flying past me on the bike “whoosh” and they are gone. I don’t care, I am happy with what I am doing and if I am only doing 25kmh and they are doing 60kmh good luck to them. I am not a legend, I just enjoy what I do and if I can inspire just a few people to get out there and do something I think that is great.”

After the ITU Grand Final, Alf is hoping to step up his distance and make his IRONMAN 70.3 debut at Western Sydney in November.

“If my training goes alright, I will see how I am going around July or August. My tri club mates tried to talk me out of it and that is the worst thing that could do. My doctor’s attitude is if you train hard enough you are good enough,” he said.

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Vanessa Vacirca To Prove Anything Is Possible at Ironman 70.3 Geelong

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Since leaving high school Melbourne’s Vanessa Vacirca has been on a roller coaster ride with her health, lifestyle and weight and four years ago at 123 kg felt like anything but a triathlete. When Vanessa lines up at IRONMAN 70.3 Geelong on 18 February, she will be one step closer to her ultimate goal of racing a full IRONMAN and proving that ‘Anything is Possible’.

A keen tennis player from the age of four Vanessa was very active until she finished high school but like many, at that age, she got a little sidetracked, chose a different lifestyle and took a long break from sport.

“I went the opposite way from a healthy life, started smoking and went off the rails a little. I realized this life was not making me happy so I decided to try and get fit.  I went to the gym and religiously attended aerobic classes. I quit smoking, I lost some weight and felt great, fit, and happy. Someone mentioned that if I really enjoyed training that I should give triathlons a go. So, in 2003 I did, and I signed up for the BRW Corporate Triathlon.”

“I loved it, so I did a few other short sprint triathlons that season.  During that time, I happened to catch a documentary on TV that was following some Aussies competing in IRONMAN (when it was held in Foster-Tuncurry, NSW). Their stories were all different and so inspiring and I thought, ‘I’d like to do that. I’d like to see how far I can go’.

“Then slowly my priority and desire to train, keep fit and healthy did a complete U-turn. I was still playing some tennis here and there, but as the weight piled on, activity became harder on the body. With small bursts of effort to try and lose weight and regain a healthy lifestyle, it seemed like I’d take one step forward and three steps back. I did this for years until my steps backwards became leaps.”

“Four years ago, I hit my lowest point. I remember thinking to myself that the idea to do an IRONMAN was well and truly gone.  I felt trapped in my body, smothered by 123kg. I didn’t have the energy to even want to get up in the morning, let alone try and train. I was sad, desperate, and needed help. So I decided to look into weight loss surgery. At first, I hated this idea. I felt like a failure like I was taking the easy way out but I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t want to feel the way I did and needed help to be pulled out of the hole I was in.”

Vanessa was desperate to change her life but knew that if she could get over her weight issue, she could do anything.

“I remember trying to decide which type of surgery to have and asking the doctor, ‘What’s the best option for me if I’d like to one day participate in an endurance event?’  This is when that spark of hope came back for me. What if I could lose enough weight to train for an IRONMAN?” Vanessa said.

“From the first day after the surgery, walking around the hospital ward, to my slow walks around my neighbourhood, then a slow jog, a four km fun run, a 10km fun run, sprint triathlons, a half marathon, an Olympic distance triathlon, a marathon, a 70.3 and lots of training in between, competing in Geelong will be another step towards a full IRONMAN.”

“Competing in an event such as IRONMAN 70.3 or the full IRONMAN offers people a chance to regain or cement their belief in themselves, as it has for me. So much inspiration and motivation comes from this. I’d always driven through Geelong on the way to the Surf Coast but never spent time there. When I participated in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, I thought Geelong would be a beautiful place to do an IRONMAN 70.3. And here we are,” she said.

Vanessa’s training is on track and while she is looking forward to a great race, she only has three expectations of herself – to make it to the start line, to get to the finish and improve on her last performance.

“I love the swim because it’s such a challenge for me. It’s so technical and there’s so much to learn. The bike is fun and is my best leg. Running isn’t easy for me, it’s a grind but I love the intimate moments inside my head where I dig deep and find ways to keep going. Every time I run, I find my inner strength. You discover a lot about yourself, and I like that. The finish line represents another milestone in my journey and it will look like a reflection of hard work, pride, and success.”

Vanessa’s family and friends support her in everything she does and they will be in Geelong to see her take her next step on her IRONMAN journey.

“My partner is very supportive given all the hours I spend training. I’m very thankful and grateful for that. My parents are proud and so happy that I’m living a positive and healthy lifestyle after seeing the way I used to be,” she said.

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